Ryanair Holdings plc (LON:RYA) will essentially ground all of its flights as countries in Europe go into lockdown to try and prevent the spread of coronavirus, while rival easyJet PLC (LON:EZJ) launched a sale of its flights for next autumn and winter.

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is in talks with other ministries about a multi-billion package of direct financial assistance for the industry, having acknowledged a day earlier that airlines and airports were facing “particularly acute” challenges.

Current laws allow the government to provide financial assistance “that is likely to benefit the economy” where there is a “national interest”, with a £12bn limit of support that the Treasury is looking to lifted under new emergency legislation.

Ryanair joins the lockdown

Ireland’s Ryanair said when its full fleet is grounded after midnight next Tuesday, it will operate “a very small number” of flights, mostly between the UK and Ireland.

Governments around the world have begun restricting international travel, while in Italy, Spain, France, the UK and other countries have begun imposing severe social distancing measures, keeping almost all citizens indoors apart from for essential trips for food or medicine.

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Tuesday announced that Brits should avoid all but essential travel for the next 30 days.

“We advise customers considering travel that all government travel restrictions must be followed,” said Ryanair in a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that 80% of flights would be cancelled from midnight before a full shutdown next week.

“The situation changes on a daily basis, and we encourage customers to check relevant local guidelines issued by their government before they travel,” the Dublin-based group said.

All grounded

Earlier in the week, rivals easyJet and IAG said they expect to ground the majority of their fleets due to coronavirus.

Ryanair, whose chief executive Michael O’Leary earlier this month said he expected the “hysteria” to soon blow over, said on Wednesday that it “sincerely regrets all disruptions” caused by the outbreak.

Meanwhile, easyJet (LON:EZJ) on Wednesday put its entire autumn and winter flights on sale for a flat fare of £30.

The airline said it was selling 147,000 flights between 25 October 2020 and 28 February 2021, looking to generate some revenues and forward bookings amid the current collapse in demand.